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An Ode to the MixMaster Click Here To Comment!

(In August, I read and immediately saved this Globe and Mail column, which I found delightful and nostalgic. It has inspired this post.)

I have a scar on my left index finger from when I was about nine. My mother asked me to set up the MixMaster in its customary position on the kitchen work table. The Sunbeam MixMaster, the workhorse of 1950’s kitchen small appliances, was rarely far from usage. But our farm kitchen didn’t have enough counterspace to have all the truly useful appliances out and available. So, with each use, the MixMaster had to be set up and, afterwards, put away.

Today’s design wizards would have safety switches and braking systems to make sure that a child wouldn’t ever plug in a MixMaster with the power turned on. With their hand resting casually on the beaters. However, the machines of the 1950’s and the kitchens of the 1970’s were not designed thusly. And so, in my first solo attempt to set up the sacred machine, my hand got caught in the beaters momentarily. It was pretty scary, at the time, but no harm was done. And I have this tiny scar, a MixMaster war wound.

That is my only bad memory of the Sunbeam MixMaster. That, and the horrid, electric-motor-burning smell it made at the end of its useable life. I was in Toronto by then, living on my own in my condo, loving using my Mom’s MixMaster to get my Christmas baking done.

RIP MixMaster

This photo was taken hours before it really gave up the ghost. This would have been 2008 and I put MixMaster’s birth date at about 1955. 53 years … not bad for a kitchen appliance.

Mom and I used that machine more than I can possibly describe. Endless batches of cookies, squares, bars, more cookies, fudge, candy … if it needed mixing, this was the machine to do it. Mom was pretty well known for her squares and cookies. Just recently, my cousin Steve has asked if I can make my Mom’s date squares. Perhaps no one can, Steve, without ye Olde MixMaster.

The MixMaster was also our mashed potato maker as it did operate as a very heavy hand mixer as well. Our family has a bit of a “thing” about mashed potatoes and I think the root/blame begins here, with the smooth operating MixMaster.

Mom baked endlessly before I came along, and carried on doing so long after I left the house, right up until her death in 1998.  I secured the MixMaster for my own use shortly thereafter and used it, although not as consistently or regularly, until it self-selected itself out of active duty.

The Sunbeam MixMaster operates, rather cleverly, through the design of the bowls and a tiny plastic button on the end of one of the special beaters. The button gently turns the bowl as part of the motion of the beaters. When the MixMaster was in my possession, I always worried about one of the bowls or the beaters getting broken or somehow malfunctioning. So, when I saw this at a yard sale, I snapped it up “for parts”.

The same, but not quite the same.

The “for parts” mixer sat in a box, wrapped in old towels, and almost forgotten, for about 10 years. It was moved around through my various interim abodes. It was part of my collection of stuff that I paid Good Money to store while my condo was under construction. It just sat around in a box, waiting. And then, one day, when I needed it, “for parts” was there, 100%, ready for action. It has been operational for about seven months now, and it has had a decent workout.

I could have gone on like this for a while. “For parts” was doing okay, shuttling from one counter to another between uses, bowls precariously teetering on the stand as the mixer would be moved about. Lately, “for parts” has started to make me nervous.  There is a little girl who likes to help. And this little girl has long hair and an intense curiosity about things that go “whirrrr”.  Also, the other day, when I threw together some cookies on a whim, it seemed to struggle a bit. So, when out on an unrelated retail mission, Knotty Girl and I spotted this on sale at 40% off.

Very shiny new Sports Car mixer.

This is too heavy to shuttle around so it has to stay put in one place. The bowl can’t break and the single beater is more shielded away from small hands and hair. And it has a very good motor in it. So far, it has done a lovely job on cookie dough and waffles. I will report back, closer to Christmas, on the date squares (Steve).

“For parts” is in semi-retirement, specializing now in mashed potatoes. Right over my (and Charlotte’s) head, above the workspace in the kitchen, is the original – Mom’s MixMaster – now in a place of honour beside the mixing bowl that also forms such a big part of my baking memories with Mom.

Beside the equally sacred mixing bowl that I’m terrified to break.

As things go, I think this is a pretty appropriate evolution, don’t you?

(Anyone taking bets on the longevity of the KitchenAid? 🙂 )

Brown Paper Packages 5 comments

I was coming out of the subway the other evening, around dinnertime, and was nearly bowled over by a tall young man in a rush. He was carrying a plastic grocery bag in one hand, dangling it in the normal manner by its handles, and cradling a package carefully in his other hand. It balanced horizontally across his hand and wrist, wrapped in a brown paper bag. Likely a styrofoam container of take-out that he was being careful not to spill.

It was the brown paper bag that caught my eye. We don’t really live in a brown paper bag society anymore so when they appear, I tend to take notice.

Brown paper bags used to be the default. Ubiquitous. The entire time I was growing up, groceries were carried in heavy brown paper bags, sometimes with logos, sometimes not. You carried them in your arms, like small children, not dangling down by arm-lengthening handles. I wonder what this says about our evolutionary place that we are less inclined to carry things up close to our upper bodies and more comfortable dangling them in bags close to the ground. In what way is “dangling” more convenient than “carrying”?

In our house, brown paper grocery bags were folded and saved up for important duties like “lighting the furnace” or “lighting the garbage pile” or “collecting kindling”. Garbage sorting seems to be a new concept for urban dwellers, but on the farm we were cutting edge. We sorted into metal/glass (for hauling to the dump), non-meat food scraps (for composting, or tilling into the soil, or feeding the pigs), and everything else – paper, plastic and all other refuse – which was burned in the garbage pile. Not really the current standard, but we did have a crude jump on this whole garbage sorting business. The paper bag played a role in getting things into our house, and then getting things out. They do break down nicely when left out in the rain.

In high school, my lunch was packed in a small brown paper bag, probably its least suitable application. They were always breaking, fruit got bruised easily and the bag got soggy and useless if anything leaked. When I hear the term “brown bag lunch” – often the term organizations use for lunchtime workshops for employees – I think of squished sandwiches, licking peanut butter off of saran wrap, and orange peels.

Heavy brown paper bags are excellent sturdy transport for chinese food take-out because you can stack the containers in such a way that they don’t fall over easily. I like the commanding stapling of the folded top of such a package, usually with a receipt or a menu included. I like the stapling, until I impale my index finger on one of them, which almost always happens.

Things can be hidden in brown paper bags. Magazines that you don’t want your neighbours or mail carrier to see … these were famously offered in “plain brown wrappers”.  Alcoholic beverages can be “hidden” in a brown paper bag, although these days an open bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag fairly shouts “THIS ISN”T FRESHIE I’VE GOT HERE!” You can take surprise gifts to friends in a brown paper bag, pulling out the surprise and really revealing it in the moment, rather than having them guess the shape from a less mysterious form-fitting plastic bag.

(Aside: In 1976, Rita Mae Brown published a book of angry funny feminist poetry called “A Plain Brown Rapper”. Angry and funny – that’s our Rita Mae. Plain – hardly.)

Brown paper bags, and packages made from them. Low tech solutions in an increasingly high tech world. More appealing, certainly, than plastic bags and the mess we have made of trying to reduce, re-use and recycle them. There is just something refreshingly simple and almost honest about a brown paper bag. It is what it is. You can use it a few times, and then use it to start a fire without releasing carcinogins, or bury it in the ground where it will break down. Or leave it out in the rain where the same thing will happen. Or tear it up for birds to use to build nests. It is a good thing, the brown paper bag. I’d love to see more of them.

Playing with Playlists (1) 3 comments

I’ve just spent an inordinate amount of time – measured in hours, in fact – trying to get my company logo to:

  1. show up in the template for my business blog,
  2. show up in the right location, correct size and proportions in my business blog.

There is a very nice man in the UK helping me resolve this problem, but I think he’s asleep now. I know I would be at this point. This has been mind-numbing as I’m not a designer, a php coder or an expert on cascading style sheets (css). This is a matter of one tiny fragment of syntax being misplaced by me, the hacker who just randomly cuts and pastes things and hopes for the best.  On the upside, I’ve hacked adjusted his original template all by myself to 98% of where I want it to be. But I just can’t get the damn logo to show up! Argh!

So, now, I must do something fun. My friend from Ottawa is going to call me any minute and that will be fun, of course. But just in case she doesn’t call for some reason, I’m going to start the mammoth project that occupies my head when I go to the gym. A detailed review of my birthday party playlist.

There are 146 songs on this playlist. Some of them reference other songs, so let’s say I have an overwhelming urge to give you my two cents on over 150 songs. There I am, at the gym, enthusiastically playing air drums on the treadmill, giving people cause to give me a Very Wide Berth, and occasionally laughing out loud at some memory or association that a song has dredged up. And, thinking – damn, I should blog about that.

I figure I can’t do 150+ songs in one fell swoop. No. I’ll break it down into bite-sized pieces, shall I?

When I put the playlist together, I was looking for songs that would help keep the party mood upbeat. So no Julie Andrews here, no sir. (She will show up later on, I guarantee.) No Brahms. No Joni Mitchell. No Jane Siberry Issa. No Scott Joplin. No Strauss. No Michael Jerome Brown. Surprisingly, no Suzie Vinnick and my wrist must be slapped for that oversight.

I didn’t put a ton of thought into it. What resulted are eight CDs that I think I could listen to, and smile at, ad nauseum.

(Note: I’m still looking for a Tragically Hip mentor.  I mean, a mentor who will teach me all about The Hip. It would be lovely if you were, you know, deathly cool yourself but that isn’t a pre-requisite.)

Ready? OK …

Playlist #1 Recent Finds

All Star (from Big Shiny Tunes 4) performed by Smash Mouth: About 12 years ago, I was complaining to a friend that I can never keep on top of what is currently “cool”. She recommended that I just buy the compilation CDs called Big Shiny Tunes. So I did buy a few and this is one of my fav cuts.

American Woman (from Big Shiny Tunes) performed by Lenny Kravitz: There is a popular urban legend that the original version of this Guess Who song was improvised on stage in Sarnia, Ontario – a stone’s throw from where I grew up. At least, that is how I heard it. Wikipedia says Kitchener. Meh. This song always reminds me of growing up in S/W Ontario. However, this Kravitz cover is WAY badder than anything Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman could have drummed up in the early ’70’s. We’d never heard anything like Lenny Kravitz out in the pasture, I assure you.

If Venice Is Sinking (from Celebrate Canada!) performed by Spirit Of The West: Another gift from a compilation album. This song reminds me of a bunch of folks sitting on bales of straw around a bonfire singing about drunken back-packing through Europe. Except … the words to the chorus always strike me as being a bit more substantial than your average sing-a-long:

And if Venice is sinking, I’m going under

‘Cause beauty’s religion, and it’s christened me with wonder

Sunday Morning After (from the Juno Awards 2003 compilation) performed by Amanda Marshall: This song just makes me laugh. And thank my lucky stars that I haven’t (yet) woken up wearing something or someone that I don’t recognize.

Take Me To The River (from Medusa) performed by Annie Lennox: Interestingly, of the 146 songs in this party playlist, there are three versions of this song! (I have a feeling I’m a-gonna catch hell for not putting the Al Green version on the playlist!) Annie, ah sweet Annie … this is probably the sultriest of the three versions, a tad slower, luscious. Yum.

Bad Thing (from Blind Pig Records 20th Anniversary (Disc 2)) performed by Sarah Brown: Sadly, there is no online link to this rockin’ tune. I collect obscure women playing blues, especially using guitars that rock out.

Baila Me (from Gipsy Kings (Greatest Hits)) performed by the Gipsy Kings: My favourite Gypsy Kings song. This song fuels a particular fantasy of mine. (No, not that kind … ) I imagine a stage full of women with drums of various descriptions – like a WombBoom or Samba Squad – backed up by an impossibly large contingent of Spanish and flamenco guitars, singing our lungs out to this song. There are lots of clappers too. (I’m the one in the back with one of those little tinny drums, grinning because I can feel the stage vibrate.) I remember laying out this fantasy for a friend of mine a few years ago as I drove her home after some event or other and this song came on my car stereo. We opened all the windows and sun roof and started singing made up words that didn’t sound much at all like the original … 🙂

Cuando sei Maria Dolores ( When I met Maria Dolores)
Cuando sei quei mal d’amore ( that’s when I met [knew of] a bad love)
Cuando sei quei mal a su vera ( when I knew of her evil ways)
Cuando sei me va al dottore (that’s when I know I had to go see the doctor)
Baila(x7) me (dance with me)

Black Horse & The Cherry Tree, performed by KT Tunstall: This video has the version she does just all by herself with her looper gadget. Amazing. Beth and I performed this a few years ago, with an assist from Dan Holbrook on drums. We didn’t bomb, but we didn’t sound like this. 🙂 Very fond memories of rehearsing and performing this terrific song.

Blister In The Sun (from the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack) performed by the Violent Femmes: I have a soft spot for this song and for this movie. Love John Cusack. I think the song intrigues me because the drum rhythm is so inconsistent. Somehow it manages to have a head-banger quality to it when the drummer doesn’t even keep an even rhythm. It is just … rough and ready. Reminds me of driving up Geneva Street in St. Catharines in my rattley old Honda on warm summer evenings with the windows down, going for ice cream.

Blues Before Sunrise (from From The Cradle) performed by Eric Clapton: Great album, great song … but there is a production error right here on the first track that always startles me. Clapton (hallowed be his name) manages to sustain the blues growl throughout the first few verses and then, suddenly, he loses it in the middle of “leave you, leave you all alone …” and it sort of returns, but not completely. I’ve always wondered why the producers didn’t fix this.

Brazil (from Sympathique) performed by Pink Martini: Ah, our first Pink Martini song appears as track 11. 🙂 A delicious little dance number with all the romantic Latin melodrama one could ask for!

Breathless (from Women & Songs, Vol. 4) performed by The Corrs: Great song from a great girl band. I’m a sucker for a good hook and this song has a couple. (“Go on … leave me breathless …”)

Bring Me Some Water (from Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled) performed by Melissa Etheridge: No one – and I mean NO ONE – does dyke melodrama like Melissa Etheridge. This song makes me laugh out loud at the genuine gut-wrenching angst she is able to produce. It also makes me laugh out loud over a particular memory I have of this song. Late ’80’s, early 90’s … I have no idea what course I was a teaching assistant for, or maybe I was doing a project on poetry or lyrics or something. But I have a distinct memory of handing out copies of these lyrics to a seminar and earnestly forcing people to a) listen to the damn song and b) debate the lyrics. I was such an earnest, keen, evangelical little dyke. There is, of course, very little to debate here. Jilted woman, jealous, not coping well.

The Bug (from Come On Come On) performed by Mary Chapin Carpenter: Come on, come on … how can anyone not love these lyrics? Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug. Actually, this whole album is a treasure. When I listen to the whole thing at one go, I remember working in the upstairs study when J and I lived two blocks north of where I am now. The entire album was a favourite in the mid-90’s. There is a beautiful ballad on here and, although I don’t go to that many weddings these days, I do wonder if it has become a wedding type of song. It is called (Too Much To Expect but not) Too Much To Ask. Normally, I find protestations of long-term monogamy to be tedious, but something about this song moves me.

Can’t Help Falling In Love (from Then – 80’s compilation) performed by UB40: Another mid-90’s dance favourite. Nice funky beat to this. Love the horns.

Chaiyya_Chaiyya (from the soundtrack to Inside Man), performed by Sukhwinder Singh and Sapna Awasthi. This was recycled onto the Inside Man (Denzel Washington/Jodie Foster) soundtrack from a Hindi movie called Dil Se. I’m posting the link to the Bollywood music video, filmed entirely on the top of a moving train. Much more interesting than anything Denzel/Jodie can come up with vis a vis this song.  When I hear the really good Bollywood stuff – like this song – I can barely contain myself. Must dance. I saw Inside Man with my friend Martina shortly after it came out. I think it was the Jodie Foster quotient that got us there. This song played during the opening and closing credits and, man, if I’d had an aisle seat … I would have been dancing. This song, Chunari Chunari from Monsoon Wedding, has the same effect. (I note, with pleasure, that Chaiyya Chaiyya was released on Venus Records.)

How many was that – 16? Woo hoo … more than 10% in! With a couple of bonus tracks! We are on our way!

Angle One – Nostalgia Click Here To Comment!

There are a number of different angles from which I can speak about the Manitoulin Bike Tour last week. I'm going to start with nostalgia.

How is it possible for a trip through a part of the province that I've only visited once, briefly, 20 years ago, to trigger nostalgia? Well … the nostalgia is more for the atmosphere, ambiance, and activity. Last year, when I bought my bike, I posted about how riding it made me feel like I was a kid again. I still get that feeling every time I get on it, even if I am on my way to a meeting or to do adult things like errands. I feel like I'm about 10-12, a little bit giddy and unpredictable.

However, most of my biking, in the past year, has happened in the Big City, amidst cars and pedestrians and noise and concrete towers. It kinda dampens the nostalgia, really. For example, when I was a kid, I would bike up this road, often, to buy pop and chips, or to play softball.

My first photo above is NOT from Manitoulin Island – it is the Kerwood Road, southwest of Strathroy, Southern Ontario. This is what it would look like on a late summer day heading to Fred Woods' store, one of those old-fashioned country stores that combined hardware with canned soup. Fred Woods' store also possessed a pop cooler that opened from the top and you pulled your glass bottle of pop from the water and dried it off with a towel, or on your shirt. (Glossary for Americans and Europeans: pop = soda, carbonated beverage.)

So, put me on a bike and point me down a country road surrounded by cows, hay bales, the scent of sweetgrass, the occasional pick-up truck roaring by, farms in various states of repair and disrepair … and I am suddenly, instantly, no longer truly adult.

We non-biologist cyclists decided this is peregrine falcon nest. We are completely making this up, but it sounds good. And a fun discovery to make along the way.

When I was 10, I didn't "need" the following items:

  • helmet
  • gloves
  • odometer / bike computer
  • iPod
  • totally dorky but totally awesome orange vest
  • padded bike pants
  • padded gel seat
  • shock absorbers under my ass
  • shock absorbers under the front handlebars

But now, apparently, these items are essential parts of the experience.

Some of the buildings on Manitoulin are aging more gracefully than others.

I love living in downtown Toronto. In so many ways, it is perfect for me. Lots to do, easy to get to everything. What one might hear me mumble about, from time to time, is the absence of a country vista – that need that I have to sort of stretch my eyes across a horizon, to see long distances with very little impediment.

Here is something you don't see often in downtown Toronto …

My diet took a real beating this trip. As has been pointed out to me, cycling 35-40 KM a day isn't all that much. Three – four hours of steady effort. But, I ate as though I'd been running a marathon each day. Mistake. There were too many carb temptations (brownies, potatos, french fries) and too much exposure to the peanut butter / chocolate ice cream @ Farquhar's Dairy. THE BEST peanut butter ice cream EVER!  Too little protein.  Upping the protein in my diet tends to keep me away from the carb temptations, so the lack of serious protein (eggs in the morning, tuna or chicken @ lunch, red meat every few days … ) was A Problem. I was really feeling it at the end of day three when I ordered this.  This is seriously one of the best burgers I've ever had. Granted, I was really really hungry …

However, I'm back on track now … I hope … 🙂

This was a terrific way to begin the wind-down of both my summer, and my year away from faculty work. True, the summer is not yet over and there is lots yet to come.  But what a wonderful transition time … more on this to come …

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Musical Nostalgia Click Here To Comment!

I'm having great fun loading music into my new iPod thingie. I find myself drawn to music that already has layers of

memory to it.

For example, Joni Mitchell's live album from the early 70's, Miles of Aisles, has been with me all throughout my 20's, while living, laughing, loving my way through the Niagara Region.  There is geography attached to this album … I also remember it as  the soundtrack to my first drive to the Michigan Women's Music Festival in 1990. This album has seen me through about 10 different apartments, break-ups and earnest coffee klatches in which the impact of post-modern thought on feminism were discussed. Now, it comes with me to Hawaii for a new layer of memory.

Jane Siberry is another nostalgia trip for me. I have specific memories for specific songs, often involving driving … occasionally involving sobbing … or my friend Trix and I obsessively hitting "repeat" on The Taxi Ride when she was getting over a particularly bad heartache.

80's retro stuff reminds me of the crazy L/G (there was no B/T or "queer" at the time) dances and intense crushes I had when I was just coming out. Erasure, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Pet Shop Boys … yep … all comes back to me. Huey Lewis and the News makes me think of driving along the Welland Canal in St. Catharines, windows down, music blaring, shades on, groovin' … I wanna new drug

I think iPods make it possible for people to re-connect with their nostalgia trips, musically. I'm the kind of person who associates particular visuals or conversations or people with particular songs. When I hear the song, I'm taken back to a special moment in time. Wondering if this happens to others – what songs or artist take you right back? And, where do they take you to?

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